WITNESS: “IT WAS A MASSACRE!”
Protest, violence and death
They report some 20 injured by gunshots, as well as with machetes; they used guns
By: Hermann Bellinghausen
San Juan Chamula, Chiapas 
“It was a massacre,” says a young witness to the shooting that occurred here yesterday at 8 o’clock in the morning in the central plaza of this traditional and famous Tzotzil locality.
An act of demand from various communities, something common here, turned into a lethal shootout that cost the life of Mayor Domingo López González and the council member Narciso Lunes Hernández, as well as an undetermined number of dead and wounded, although those residents present agree that around 20 could be dead, the majority from bullets, but also machetes.
It’s difficult to know the precise number, but the testimonies agree that the first shots came from the city hall.
“People met in the communities from 6 in the morning, to come to demand the programs that the municipio promised. Everyone came, men and women. No one knew what was going to happen,” the witness. “At 8 in the morning President Domingo (of the Green Ecologist Party of Mexico) came out on the balcony of city hall.”
“After listening to the dissidents he asserted forcefully that he would deliver those resources later, and he asked the people to withdraw. Then he entered the building. The people did not disperse, and then rockets and ‘bombs’ (of gunpowder) came out from inside the building, and the first gunshots.” Various subjects, some masked, who arrived with the PRIístas, had taken up positions below the municipal palace. They were carrying rifles and started to shoot at the building. This group has previously appeared with their faces covered in their protests in Tuxtla Gutiérrez.
It was then that the mayor attempted to leave through the back, but the masked men went after him and they immediately shot him. “They came for that, they were prepared.
“He also had to have others in the streets above, because some came out running and others went behind shooting,” adds the young man, who requests anonymity, but speaks with total fluency and in good Castilla. Three other men surround us that just listen. The first shots came out of the municipal presidency, according to this version, which two other indigenous men present in the plaza confirmed later, who surrounded a man standing up with a bullet wound, who with a hand on his abdomen observed the police on the plaza past 11 o’clock in the morning, almost three and a half hours after the events.
“How long did the shots last? No more than 10 minutes. All the people started to run to the edge of the plaza. Women? Many came, but they stayed at the edge. Yes, there were injured; I don’t know if there were any dead,” the witness explains to La Jornada. Apparently there were other shots afterwards.
The municipal building, painted completely green, is barely separated by a narrow passage from the municipal building of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, its initials in Spanish). “Ruddy of heart,” proclaims a big sign on its facade. On the side, the presidency shows numerous bullet impacts and broken windows. High-powered weapons were used, according to what a ministerial agent said later, when the police finally arrived. They found cartridges from a 45-caliber pistol, an AK-47 and an R-15. An orifice is distinguished on a screen that a police agent of mature age considered as a shot from inside.
A town in shock
The body of an older man lies over an abundant puddle of blood on the line of the small area of a soccer field traced at the western side of the plaza. His loneliness is absolute; no one is nearby. An elderly woman remains seated on the stairs at the side of the plaza, like unrelated to everything, silent. Another cadaver continues in sight on the street that goes to the market. According to the testimonies, the mayor and his councilman would have fallen behind the municipal presidency when they were attempting to flee. A number of unknown individuals died in the plaza, because their family members or companions removed them before 10 o’clock in the morning. According to two Chamulans from the municipal capital, two Nissan “Estaquitas” (trucks) entered the plaza after the confrontation, some indigenous men picked up the dead and injured, and then they went away.
After the shootout, the masked men that would have killed Domingo López and his collaborator carried the bodies to the front of the city hall, and with gestures and shouts they pointed to them and were calling to the people that were approaching. At least one was re-killed there. “He was already dead, you can come now,” they said. “But the people had not come to fight. They were not informed,” the witness says. By then, the hundreds of indigenous that were protesting had fled and only residents of the municipal capital remained, unrelated to the tragedy, but too impressed to classify them as voyeurs. The town is in a state of shock, the streets deserted, except for small groups of men.
Erase that photo
“Erase that photo,” a state police agent with a helmet demands, pointing his tear gas rifle at this reporter when he sees him taking a picture of the man stretched out on the ground. A dozen police vehicles just entered the plaza and jump out onto the ground clutching their weapons, extremely nervous. “Erase it,” he insists. Upon being questioned as to why, another agent farther away aims his rifle for a few seconds, and the first agent, maybe reconsidering, points to the scarce number of indigenous that observe from the periphery of the extensive central plaza: “If you don’t, they people will hit you.” “Then why do you aim at me?”
In fact, the only time that some indigenous attempted to question the reporters was when a state functionary headed to a group of his acquaintances and indicated: “remove the journalists;” the indigenous were limited to impeding us from approaching the presidency, the PRI and the market.
Vehicles from the municipal police of San Cristóbal de Las Casas, the state police and investigative agents arrived sounding their sirens towards 11:30 in the morning and they cordoned off the front part of the plaza with anti-riot equipment and regulation weapons. The nervousness of the agents and functionaries is the most alarming of all. They immediately proceed to collect cartridges and other evidence, and only later will they use latex gloves and bags. More than investigating, they are cleaning up the plaza.
From early on, the social networks were flooded with a lot of photographs of the dead functionaries. One of every two Chamulans must have a cell phone. “A lot of photographers were there,” relates the witness quoted above.
Nevertheless, the first press images are from the air and from when the patrols were already at the place. All the images that circulated in the networks and some media were from local residents and are late scenes.
Towards noon, a pick up truck goes into the plaza. Two women are in the box. One, an older woman, cries inconsolably. Two men get out of the cabin, pick up the cadaver and hastily throw it into the vehicle’s box, facedown. In order that the doors close, they bend the knees up, only his feet and the soles of his huaraches are seen once they close the back door of the box. The second woman aboard the cabin and the pick up gets out. Various police surround the scene without daring to intervene. The woman looks briefly at the feet of the cadaver, turns the face and cries desperately. Nearby, a white truck picks up another body.
Soon, only police agents and patrol cars were in the proximity of the buildings of the PRI and of the municipal council. Not one business is open in the entire town. The people are sheltered in their homes. Some families remain on the flat roofs of the houses near the plaza.
At the border between San Cristóbal and Chamula, in the middle of the road a little sign warned in the morning: “Don’t go to Chamula. There’s a problem.” To say the least!
 San Juan Chamula is close to the tourist mecca of San Cristóbal. Chamula is the home of “traditional” religious practices, at least that’s what they tell tourists. Day trips for tourists to Chamula are very popular and the municipio (municipality, or county) makes a lot of money from these tourists trips. Chamula is also home to some of the thugs that attacked, evicted and destroyed the encampment and occupation of the “people’s movement” in San Cristóbal. In its Open Letter to the Governor of Chiapas, the EZLN warned the Governor of the danger of stirring up the rivalries in Chamula!
Originally Published in Spanish by La Jornada
Sunday, July 24, 2016
Re-published with English interpretation by the Chiapas Support Committee